Crime & Courts

SC Solicitor Johnson losing fundraising battle to challenger in Democratic race

Top democrat compares Solicitor Dan Johnson to Donald Trump, demands he release financial information

A top Midlands Democrat said Wednesday at a press conference that Dan Johnson needs to produce an audit of office spending after questions arose.
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A top Midlands Democrat said Wednesday at a press conference that Dan Johnson needs to produce an audit of office spending after questions arose.

Embattled 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson, hit by allegations of financial mismanagement and sexual harassment, is badly losing the battle for money to keep his job in next Tuesday's Democratic primary.

Challenger Byron Gipson raised almost $6 for every $1 that Johnson raised in April and May, according to the latest campaign filings by each candidate.

Johnson raised $9,530, including two $1,000 donations, during that period.

Gipson raised $56,840. Gipson's contributors included 31 lawyers who gave $1,000 each, including former U.S. attorneys Pete Strom and Bill Nettles, and former 5th Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese.

How much the two candidates raise is important because the sum can indicate community support — or the lack thereof. Money also can pay for last-minute ads or drive get-out-the-vote efforts. In short, the more money a candidate has, the better.

Meanwhile, the leader of S.C. House Democrats called on Johnson on Wednesday to quit his bid for a third, four-year term if he can not answer questions about his office's spending by Friday.

However, a Greenville County auditor said a report on that spending will not be available until July, week's after Tuesday's primary. But an incomplete review shows Johnson's office spent public money on personal expenses, the auditor added.

That disclosure came after House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, challenged Johnson to make that audit public by Friday or quit his bid for a third four-year term.

Johnson "should not put the public in a position where they are being required to vote in a race where they don't have all the answers and they don't know what is going on," said Rutherford. "We deserve better than this."

S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson said Wednesday that if any of the allegations concerning Johnson proves true, he needs to step aside. "Those who enforce our laws need to be beyond reproach."

Johnson and his attorney, Wally Fayssoux, also did not respond to a request for comment.

However, the auditor whose firm was hired to do a forensic review of spending in Johnson's office predicted Wednesday that audit will not be completed until July. That audit will look into whether money in Johnson's office was handled inappropriately, Micheal O'Shea said.

But one initial finding already is in.

Johnson's office has spent public money on personal expenses, and that spending likely will have to be reimbursed, O'Shea said.

The FBI and the State Law Enforcement Division are investigating spending in Johnson's office, including numerous trips that the prosecutor took around the country, as well as to Europe, South America and the Galapagos Islands. Johnson and his office also spent thousands on luxury Uber rides, trips to casino complexes and checks made out to "cash."

Records of Johnson's office spending were obtained by the Public Access to Public Records watchdog group, or PAPR, and, subsequently, reported by news media outlets. Last week, The State also published accounts by two former lawyers in the solicitor's office who said they had been sexually harassed by Johnson, who sent them hundreds of text messages and sought a closer relationship with them.

O'Shea, a Greenville County auditor, said it is not simple to audit records in Johnson's office. The office takes in about $10 million a year from various sources. However, it lacks systematic procedures to track and handle expenses, and a designated person to monitor spending and revenues, O'Shea said.

Auditors are sifting through roughly 70,000 pages of spending records that cover the past eight years, including credit card and bank statements, O'Shea said. Johnson and his staff are cooperating with auditors and answering questions, the auditor added.

O'Shea said he is aware federal law enforcement officers also are investigating spending in the solicitor's office.

The 5th Circuit solicitor, paid $141,300 a year, is the chief prosecutor in Richland and Kershaw counties. With its multimillion-dollar budget and a staff of 144, including 42 assistant prosecutors, the solicitor's office handles thousands of criminal prosecutions each year in those two counties. The office also works with state, federal and local law enforcement agencies.